Canadian poet Alice Major has loved and admired science and mathematics since girlhood and this background brings to her mathy poems both charm and amazement -- qualities that those of us who seriously studied mathematics easily lack. At the recent BRIDGES conference I had a chance to hang out with Alice for a while and to purchase her latest collection, Standard Candles (University of Alberta Press, 2015). Such fun to experience her views of infinities and paradoxes, of triangles and symmetries and formulas and ... .
Alice has given me permission to post two of her poems here; read on and enjoy "The god of prime numbers" and "Zeno's paradox."
The god of prime numbers by Alice Major
-– trinity, quintic, indivisible seven -–
visits her creation
often in its early moments
then draws away for ever-lengthening periods
oh, how long must we inhabit
a dreary world of common factors
‘til her return?
Zeno's paradox by Alice Major
We've solved the paradox.
Motion is possible. The arrow's flight ends
even if its fractions interlock
to infinity –- half a distance, yet again
half, and half .… We know this series sums
to a finite thunk and shudder.
And we know
the thrumming calculus of life comes
to completion. I am half-way through
my count of years -- half-way to knowing
all I will know. Yet something stalls
in the air, an infinitely subtle slowing.
Of whatever I have learned when the arrow falls
silent, one last sliver will be lost.
A final distance will remain uncrossed.